In today’s technology-based world, educational institutions are trying to keep up with the trends. In order to stay viable, post-secondary institutions must adopt the use of technologies to increase the convenience and flexibility of learning (Roberts, 2008). Over 30% of post-secondary students in the U.S. took at least one online course in 2010 (Lloyd et al., 2012). As online enrolment continues to grow, online course offerings must parallel this growth. However, the implementation of online learning programs is often met with various challenges. It has recently been reported that the main barrier in online learning and distance education is faculty resistance (Bates, 2011). Before reflecting on this point, I wanted to learn more about the reasons for faculty resistance and see how prevalent this topic was in education literature. After reading several articles on the barriers to online course implementation, it became clear that faculty resistance was more widespread than I had thought.
The reasons for faculty resistance in online course implementation emcompass a variety of personal, pedagogical, financial, and administrative issues. First, some faculty have a strong preference for face to face teaching and have concerns about the pedagogical quality of online courses (MacKeogh & Fox, 2009; Schopieray, n.d.). In online adult education, the role of the instructor transitions to a facilitator who must also be flexible and open to feedback from learners (Cercone, 2008). Some faculty may not comfortable with this new role. Due to a lack of experience with eLearning, instructors may feel that they don’t have the appropriate skills to teach without being able to see their students’ reactions and body language (Lloyd et al., 2012; Smith, 2011). In other words, they may have difficulty detecting when online learners are struggling. Other instructors may not see the value of eLearning and may perceive a lack of standards in online education (Mitchell & Geva-May, 2009). A second common issue amongst faculty is the unfamiliarity with technology. Interestingly, men cited a significantly higher level of comfort with eLearning technology than women, and faculty aged 45 to 60 felt most intimidated by the technology (Lloyd et al., 2012). This unfamiliarity with eLearning technology and teaching methods can cause faculty to feel overwhelmed. Also, some faculty have expressed concern over the effects of eLearning on their teaching position with respect to loss of control, ownership of curriculum, recognition of work, job stability, and tenure progress (MacKeogh & Fox, 2009; Mitchell & Geva-May, 2009; Schopieray, n.d.). Others are concerned about a lack of compensation for their time, particularly as class sizes and workloads increase. Finally, some faculty resist online teaching because of the institutional politics and economics. Excessive bureaucratic procedures and limiting institutional policies can be off-putting for many faculty (Roberts, 2008). Instructors may feel that a focus on funding and competing agendas leads to decreased emphasis on meeting educational objectives (Gallant, 2000; MacKeogh & Fox, 2009). As a part of this issue, some faculty may experience a lack of institution support with respect to resources, technical support, and instructor training for eLearning programs (Gallant, 2000; Mitchell & Geva-May, 2009; Schopieray, n.d.). Without institution support in these areas, faculty may resist and develop negative attitudes towards the implementation of online training programs. For some faculty, the reasons described above are enough to overcome the potential benefits of online teaching and learning.
There are several recommended strategies for institutions to ease the transition to online classrooms for faculty. The common theme in the literature is that institutions must develop a structured and transparent plan for implementing online programs that includes faculty support. Faculty resistance would likely decrease if the institution developed a detailed strategic plan that included quality standards for eLearning (MacKeogh & Fox, 2009; Roberts, 2008). Involving faculty in the development of policies and procedures would likely further decrease resistance (Schopieray, n.d.). In terms of institutional support, it’s important to supply instructors with the resources, training, and time required to develop online course material. Institutions may connect experienced instructors with those who are new to online teaching, or may enrol instructors in courses or workshops to improve skills and confidence with eLearning strategies (Gallant, 2000; Lloyd et al., 2012). Lastly, incentives and rewards for online teaching are another way to reduce faculty resistance (Gallant, 2000; Smith, 2011). This would increase the extrinsic motivation of instructors to undertake online teaching. In summary, there are several ways that an institution may support faculty and involve them in online program implementation that will benefit the learners and the institution as a whole.
After reading the literature and considering my own experiences, I agree that faculty resistance is a prevalent issue in online training implementation. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the data provided in the study discussed by Bates (2011) because I don’t know the parameters of the study (e.g. sample size, gender and age of participants, countries, etc.). However, it’s clear that faculty resistance is present and is a significant barrier to eLearning program development. I think that the reasons for faculty resistance are quite valid, and a few reasons in particular resonated with me and my experience thus far as an online instructor.
In early 2010 I moved to Victoria and taught a short face to face course at the Pacific Horticulture College (PHC). Early that summer, PHC approached me to develop and instruct an online course in Botany. At the time I was keen to gain more experience in education and was short on work, so it was a perfect opportunity for me and I gladly accepted it. My eagerness prevented me from asking more questions up front and I quickly found out that I was truly on my own in this endeavor. I knew nothing about online course platforms, online course design, or online teaching methods and neither did anyone at the institution. I was disheartened to learn that the focus was on economics rather than quality of education. The Executive Director of the non-profit organization that oversees the college was pushing college staff to offer courses online to broaden the student body and increase revenue. The next barrier I encountered was financial. Being a non-profit organization, the college could only pay me for a minimal amount of hours to develop the online course, which worked out to be about one third of the hours it actually required. I did end up receiving some additional payment for my work but I ended up doing a lot of the work for free. I also purchased three online teaching books to familiarize myself with the Moodle platform and the basic methods for designing an online course, which I read on my own time. What made the situation worse was that I had signed a contract stating that the online course I developed was property of the college. Not only was I working for free, but I had no ownership of the course upon completion. By the end of summer 2010 I had completed the Botany course development but felt no recognition for my work, particularly because there wasn’t enough enrolment to run the course until October 2011.
In my experience, the major reasons for feeling resistant were the emphasis on economics, the lack of compensation based on the time commitment, the lack of technical and administrative support, the lack of guidelines or structure from the college, and my own lack of experience and training. I didn’t experience any significant bureaucratic issues because it’s a small private college. I also never felt skeptical about the effectiveness of online teaching for an academic subject such as Botany. I knew that the course curriculum lent itself well to an online platform. Also, I was not worried about job security because the online course development was an additional work opportunity for me. In the past two years I’ve taught the online Botany course twice and also developed and taught an online Soils course once. The courses went smoothly and I received positive feedback from the learners. However, the courses are quite basic in their design and need improvement. This is why I signed up for the eLearning Certificate Program at VCC. I registered for the program for the purpose of my own professional development and to improve the online course offerings at the PHC, and I’m financing the program myself. In a way, I’m still on my own in this endeavor.
I was surprised to learn how prevalent faculty resistance is in online program implementation but after reading about the reasons that cause resistance, I can understand why. Online teaching is a big change for faculty, especially those who have been teaching using traditional face to face methods for many years. For these experienced faculty, the transition to online learning may make them feel that their methods are not as valuable as they once were. That could lead many of these faculty to feel insecure and defensive, creating a negative attitude toward online teaching. The negative impression of eLearning would only be compounded by a lack of support and training from the institution. Also, adult online learners have unique qualities that must be acknowledged in course design including autonomy, self-direction, high intrinsic motivation, a wealth of experience, and a need for relevancy and problem-solving (Cercone, 2008). Faculty who are not aware of how adult learning theories apply to the online environment may have trouble connecting with online learners, which can be discouraging and frustrating for an instructor. For these reasons, I can see why online training implementation has been difficult for some institutions.
From my perspective, I’m a relatively new instructor who has taught a variety of courses at three different institutions so I’m not as “set in my ways” as other faculty might be. I’m very open to new opportunities and am flexible in my teaching style. Also, I’ve taken several online courses and have had excellent learning experiences as an online student. In other words, I have seen the effectiveness of online learning first-hand and I know that it’s possible to develop high quality learning experiences for students in a completely online environment. Studies have shown that faculty who have had some experience with online education are significantly less resistant in online program implementation (Kolowich, 2012). This trend is associated with comfort level in the online environment and perception of the value and effectiveness of online learning, both of which I possess. In addition, I’m very comfortable with technology so I don’t perceive that as a barrier for myself. I enjoy learning about new computer programs and tools and I enjoy sharing that knowledge with others. For these reasons, it worked out well that I’m the person developing and instructing the online courses at the PHC. If it were a larger institution, I would have offered to be paired with another faculty member who was more resistant to online teaching and less familiar with the technology and teaching styles. I would gladly help other faculty overcome their respective barriers and keep an open mind about online teaching by sharing my eLearning experiences.
As described above, I’ve only had moderate feelings of resistance towards developing online courses. That being said, I’m not immune to the barriers that other faculty are facing in online program implementation. This research and reflection has increased my awareness of the issue of faculty resistance and made me consider what I need from an institution to successfully create online courses. In the future, I plan to create my own checklist of things I’d like to have in place before taking on any online course development or teaching assignments. This would help me avoid feelings of resistance and negativity and will help the implementation go smoother. I will bring my checklist when meeting with the institution staff and make sure that all items are covered to my satisfaction before agreeing to the contract. My checklist will include the following items:
- ongoing technical support
- a contract with payment details and a reasonable timeline
- an agreement about ownership of material
- options for additional training as required
- a strategic plan of how the training fits into the institution’s goals
In this eLearning Certificate Program I am gaining the teaching tools to develop and instruct an online course, but I want to make sure that my employer has covered the appropriate resources on their end. It comes down to asking the right questions and making sure I have the resources I need to succeed as an instructor. Then I can be confident that we are all working towards the common goal of creating effective online courses that meet the educational objectives of the institution.
Bates, T. (2011). 2011 outlook for online learning and distance education. Contact North. Retrieved from http://provost.ncsu.edu/governance/task-forces/distance-education/2011/documents/2011- outlook-for-online-learning-and-de.pdf
Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning design. AACE Journal, 16(2): 137-159.
Gallant, G.M. (2000). Professional development for web-based teaching: Overcoming innocence and resistance. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2000(88): 69-78.
Kolowich, S. (2012). Conflicted: Faculty and online education, 2012. Retrieved January 17 from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/conflication-faculty-and-online-education-2012
Lloyd, S.A., Byrne, M.M., & McCoy, T.S. (2012). Faculty-perceived barriers of online education. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(1): 1-13. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol8no1/lloyd_0312.htm
MacKeogh, K., & Fox, S. (2009). Strategies for embedding e-learning in traditional universities: Drivers and barriers. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(2): 147-154.
Mitchell, B., & Geva-May, I. (2009). Attitudes affecting online learning implementation in higher education institutions. Journal of Distance Education, 23(1): 71-88.
Roberts, C. (2008). Implementing educational technology in higher education: A strategic approach. The Journal of Educators Online, 5(1): 1-16.
Schopieray, S.E. (n.d.). Motivating education faculty to teach online courses: Implications for administrators. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.msu.edu/~schopie1/research_files/aera07_short.pdf
Smith, C.K. (2011, November 2). Faculty resistance to online distance education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://gcunur649ecsmith.blogspot.ca